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Posts from — May 2008

Decoration Day

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” wrote Cicero. My family had both.

Part of what I want to accomplish with this blog is to revisit the Edens of my childhood and remember the strengths, gifts, and trainings I received from my wonderful extended family, all of whom were dedicated gardeners, readers, and reciters of poetry.

On this Memorial Day here in the US, I think of all those who have died for our freedoms. May we never take them for granted. On this day, too, my mind takes me back [Read more →]

May 26, 2008   3 Comments

A Place for Everything and…

We did what we could. We needed to hire help for almost everything, since neither one of us had enough energy to do much of anything. People to clean, people to unpack, people to cut the grass, people to rearrange furniture, people to help us discover what lay in all those “Computer Room” boxes.

I always aspire to my family motto of “A place for everything and everything in its place.” It’s a good way to live (which I’d discovered by trial and error).

You remember that nagging feeling of “I must have forgotten something, but I don’t know what?” My sister and I had walked through the house fairly quickly, and Frank hadn’t laid eyes on it until we arrived, although I had made a rough drawing of the floor plan for him.

It finally hit us. It’s a much bigger house, but there’s almost no storage space. The few closets are tiny, and here we are with all this stuff, and 4x stuff at that.

Just a tiny problem that should be solved by serious triage and winnowing. A box or two a day once we’d found our immediate needs. At that rate, we should have a place for everything and everything in its place in, oh, a few thousand years. 

May 25, 2008   No Comments

Settling In (After a Fashion)

All too soon, the moving van struggled up the gravel road. Exhausted as we were, we posted ourselves in chairs in front of the garage door to direct the flow of furniture and boxes. It was a very long day.

It soon became evident that since there was a computer in several rooms of our “old” house, most of boxes were marked “Computer Room.” Many of the others were marked “Misc.”

Once the furniture was more or less placed, the six or eight strong men brought box after box in what could only be described as an onslaught. We were exhausted to begin with, and I quickly descended into “what the hell” mode, pointing the automatons in vague directions. Wherever.

When they finally left, we staggered into the house to find that the boxes had been placed with the labels facing the walls.

Laugh or cry? We couldn’t decide.

I hadn’t remembered that x amount of stuff when packed becomes 4x of stuff. And we had an unbelievable amount of stuff.

So there we were, walking sideways again. All I could was to invoke my famous coping phrase: “This day is over.”

And so it was.

May 24, 2008   1 Comment

And Ends

Getting us and our possessions on the road was living proof of Murphy’s Law. From packing to shipping our car to motel reservations and plane tickets and Frank having to throw himself to the ground several times to dismantle my new electric scooter to get it in and out of cabs, it was a nightmare.

We set out early the next morning from New York, and between one glitch and another, didn’t arrive at our new house in the Missouri woods until late that night, exhausted and nerves frayed.

Frank wanted to go to a hotel for the first night, but I insisted on what I thought was a better plan. I swooped through the big-box store on my new wheels and grabbed air mattresses and bedding. A brilliant plan.

When we got back to the house, only then did I see the instructions on the air mattresses: “Must be charged for 12 hours before inflating.” So we slept on the floor, sung to sleep by hundreds of bullfrogs in the woods.

Who says you can’t go home again?  

May 21, 2008   No Comments

The Maelstrom Begins

“College girl seeks summer nanny position.” I called Diana’s number and asked her if she’d like to be a nanny to a middle-aged woman, or perhaps an assistant, whatever she’d prefer to be called.

We connected instantly, and she was hired to do the things I couldn’t, with the understanding that she could always say no. She was tall, strong, and brilliant, a junior at Vassar, and as she worked, she discussed “matters of importance” with both Frank and me. She borrowed arms-full of books from each of our libraries. As a women’s studies major, she had landed in “ground central.”

She cleaned, brought me imaginative meals on a tray, ferried me to doctors’ appointments, picked up prescriptions from the pharmacy, emptied the freezer to take to the local food pantry, packed heirlooms, and as we worked, the conversations continued.

I couldn’t do much except give instructions, delegate, point, and teach an ongoing teleclass propped up in bed. About all Frank could do was walk about the house with his hands on his head muttering, “Maelstrom, maelstrom, maelstrom.”

All too soon, the moving van pulled into the driveway. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain, I dived under the covers and told Frank I couldn’t deal with anything more at that point; he and Diana would have to take over.

Thank goodness for those now-visible hands.

May 16, 2008   No Comments

Unseen Hands

Over iced tea, we called Frank from Bobbi’s kitchen table. Instead of “Hello,” he answered with “So, you want to buy a house, eh? Put Charla on the line, please.”
“No, no objections whatsoever. It’s perfect for you both. Much, much, much better than the other house.” I let her do all the talking.
My study would be next to the kitchen, Frank’s would be at the end of a long hallway, out of the commotion of things, but next to the woods. We could wave to each other from his-and-her decks, and this house would be much bigger than our tiny New York house.
No freeways: just trees, a creek, silence, and finally room enough for our multitudes of books. I imagined saying to visitors, “Now this is the library, and this is the library, and this is the library.”
“Fine, write the contract.”
Within a few days, all transactions were completed and papers signed. We put our New York house up for sale, and within a month, the movers would come to pack everything.

I crawled home to Frank, making the painful navigations through the airport and into the car as he picked me up. Straight to bed, and there I stayed. Nothing on my mind but pain and fatigue and pain. 

My knees seemed permanently bent, and I couldn’t straighten them out. The medications didn’t even touch the pain, and I couldn’t get comfortable anywhere.

Frank was worried. The doctor seemed non-committal, and I was beginning to wonder if I was dealing with something chronic.

Just getting from bed to bathroom was a horrendous affair with the walker and Frank steadying me. He was kind to bring me everything I needed, but how would I ever sort, toss, pack, and get ready for the move?

I hoped the nightmare was temporary, but we were both beginning to wonder. Maybe by the time the movers arrived I’d be up and pain free. In the meanwhile, all I could do was make phone calls from bed, read, and nap.

We kept reminding ourselves what Joseph Campbell had said: If you follow your bliss, there will be those invisible hands opening doors for you that you never knew existed. 

May 12, 2008   No Comments

Good Enough

Sunshine, a ringing phone, and Bobbi on the line. “Somebody made a completed contract last night. Your house was not to be, so shall we set out again today?”

Of course. Coffee and pancakes. A lot of coffee. A dull ache of disappointment where I had promised myself there would be none. I had fallen in love with a home and had been rejected. So what?

In my head, I believe that rejection is a wonderful and necessary thing, that it gives us valuable feedback, saving us time. “Not here,” it says, “Not now, not this.” But I found it hard to erase the dreams I had for the white fence, the wild flowers, the baby rabbits, and the bees in the peach orchard.

Once again we three set off, joking about being jilted, about my broken-heartedness, and how life brings us what we need, but not necessarily what we want. Easy for me to banter, but a little pang of grief remained.

Our second day of searching was much like the first. Charla would do the walk-throughs as I nursed my aching knees in the car. Many more houses. So many for sale as we criss-crossed the countryside.

Late in the day, Bobbi said, “Now this house may not be what you’re looking for, but it’s on the way, and it won’t hurt to look.” She handed me the page of pictures and statistics.

Unappealing, but it was on the way, so we might as well check it out.

I decided to hobble through this one. The owner swept the red door open with a flourish as we staggered through our fatigue into the entrance hall. A turn to the right, and we were in the living room, mostly empty except for the late-afternoon sun and the butter-colored carpet, tinkly new-age and native American music, and the scent of baking bread and cinnamon candles throughout the house.

In a daze, we ploughed through.

Finally, Charla and I stood in the sun room and looked down into the woods. The house had “good bones,” clean lines, essentially a long rectangular box built to capture every possible ray of sunshine in every room. Only the living room faced west, and the other rooms faced East. I’m a morning person and crave morning sun. It was beautiful, simple, good enough.

I turned to Charla. “Should we?”

“Of course. No question.”

“No objections? No second thoughts?”

“None whatsoever.”

We talked briefly to the owners about maintenance costs and other things we should know.

Bobbi drove out the driveway. “Now our next stop is…”

I interrupted her. “No, our next stop is your kitchen table where we make out a contract for this house tonight.

“Well, all right.” And she turned the car around in the middle of the road.


May 8, 2008   No Comments

A Plan

After Applebees, Charla and I got back to the motel late that night after buying several country-home type magazines. The casual, wabi-sabi look that fit both our personalities.

I called Frank right away to tell him the wonderful news, but he was less than thrilled. I could tell from his tone of voice that he was clutching his belly in angst.

“Another bathroom? Carpenters in our house? Little hatchet-hands sawing and pounding and drilling? Are you sure? Put Charla on the line, please.”

A humming sound as she listened to Frank pepper her with questions. The non-committal sounds of a person stuck firmly in the middle. “Ummmmm. Uh huhhhhhh. Ummmmmmm.” I next expected to hear “Ommmmmmm.”

Finally, “Yes, it’s cute and beautiful, and it will need some work, but it is a fabulous bargain.”

“Bargain? Who needs a bargain? I need peace and quiet. I need my little room with the books and computer, not cacophony. Put your sister back on the line, please.”

“Ellen, what are you thinking? You know I couldn’t deal with that much noise and confusion.”

I also take a neutral stance. “Nothing’s happened yet; we haven’t even made an offer; and maybe this isn’t our house. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Maybe there’s a better plan.” In spite of it all, however, nothing could dissuade me from continuing to believe we had found the perfect new home.

After we hung up, Charla began a delicate inquiry. “What about those stairs? Could you handle those several times a day?”

“Oh, of course. This knee stuff is all temporary. I’ll soon be my old self and bound up and down the stairs again. We’ll have so much fun choosing paint colors, and how about red gingham for the kitchen curtains?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know.” She sounded doubtful.

“So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow. Maybe there’s a Plan greater than ourselves that will see to it that win or lose, we’ll be fine, that everything will turn out for the best.”

We paged through the magazines, marking projects and ideas, excited by the aesthetic possibilities. Happy conversations long into the night.

And so to bed after a long, successful day, dreaming far into the night about healed knees, gardens, a converted hen house cum writing retreat, baby rabbits, a dog, and bees buzzing in the orchard. Mish-mashed snippets of Yeats lulled me to sleep:

I will arise and go now to Innisfree…

And a small cabin build there…

Nine bean-rows will I have there…

a hive for the honeybee…

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.



May 6, 2008   No Comments

On the Road to Providence

On the way back to town, the three of us took turns playing devil’s advocate. The house would need an extra bathroom upstairs, a coat of white paint in the living room.

The empty hen house was too beautiful for chickens, looked more like a writing retreat, the white room I’d always wanted. Eventually, we’d want to add more space to the back of the house and expand with some kind of garden room. I’d crave window boxes of cascading lobelia.

A spiritual experience. The house couldn’t be described in any way that could do it justice. An air of “Just Right” hung about the place. The perfect retreat, and we’d have so much fun researching its 80-year history in the courthouse records.

Back at Applebee’s, we flirted giddily with the young waiters and shouted to one another above the happy-hour crowd. Over artichoke dip, Bobbi explained the various options for offering a contract, but I was too exhausted to think clearly, and my legs still screamed. I must have pulled tendons or torn knee cartilage.

In my state of physical and emotional fatigue, I couldn’t grasp the subtleties of offer and counter-offer. I’d want to talk to Frank first, anyway.

Best not to make important decisions with a non-functioning brain. Better to “consult the pillow” first.

We three agreed: Synchronicity was at work, and forces beyond our understanding were already at work to provide us with the right home. If this were really the house for us, it would still be available when we were ready to make an offer early the next morning.

Besides, the house sat on Providence Road. Wasn’t that a sign?

May 2, 2008   No Comments

Home at Last

Bobbi was waiting for us in Applebee’s parking lot. Charla and I had called her periodically on our journey to give estimates of arrival time. As she loaded us into her Lincoln, she blasted the air on high and checked the long list of appointments she’d arranged for us.

“Any friend of Jaycie’s is a friend of mine.” Bobbi and Charla recognized each other from years and years ago. Friends already, we set off on our quest.

At the third house, I began to lose heart and moan. “It’s dark; it’s ugly; it’s ten feet from the freeway; that pond is covered with green slime; my legs ache; and I’ll never make it through the house.”

Charla volunteered to play the role of the potential buyer for me, fulfilling our appointments, and taking a cursory walk-through at each property we consigned to the “Absolutely Not” category. I waited in the car.

I don’t remember how many houses we traipsed through—seemed like endless dozens of hopeless cases.

Finally, at dusk, Charla pointed and shouted, “That’s the one! That’s the one.”

Bobbi and I gasped as we rounded the corner, thinking we’d found our next appointment. The house wasn’t on her list, but it did have a for-sale sign in the front yard.

Bobbi drove through the gap in the white picket fence, flushing out several baby rabbits. “Would you look at those gables!”

“Cute, cute, cute.” Charla whispered the mantra that had become our battle cry.

Transfixed, I said nothing.

I saw home.

Hollyhocks. Shutters on every window, a double swing on the front porch, a sunny yard, acres of dark forest, outbuildings with distinct possibilities, a well-weeded vegetable garden, even a dog house.

Wild flowers lined the fence separating the yard from the woods: Feverfew, Wild Red Clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, and tiny pink wild roses.

In the light of the gaudy sunset in the valley below, Charla, Bobbi, and I shot one another the “Absolutely Perfect” look.

Wincing, I heaved myself out of the car and hobbled to the front porch. My heart thumped as Bobbi asked the price. Much less than we’d planned to pay.

I saw us happily growing old in this place. Reading and writing together in the sunny rooms and under the peach trees in “the bee-loud glade.” Watching those baby rabbits play like kittens. Pouring gallons of iced tea for neighbors and friends. Luring Frank out for sunsets and stargazing. Almost exactly as I’d journaled it.

Imagine being able to see the stars again after so many years in the city.

Home at last.

May 1, 2008   No Comments